A daughter claimed an entitlement to a dairy farm owned by her mother and late father. The basis of her claim was that a promise had been made to her by her late father that the farm would pass to her on his death. As such she relied on this promise to her detriment dedicating almost 30 years of her life to her parents’ farm. This claim is known as a proprietary estoppel claim.
In order to assess the claim, Justice Birss referred to the well established indicators of a proprietary estoppel claim in Thorner v Major  1 WLR 776 HL: “a representation or assurance made to the claimant; reliance on it by the claimant; and detriment to the claimant in consequence of his (reasonable) reliance”.
The claimant was able to successfully evidence that many representations or promises were made to her about the future of her inheritance such as being told to deal with the employees as they would in time be working for her, or that you cannot have it now and have it later. Justice Birss was satisfied that such assurances had been made.
In order to show that the claimant had relied on these promises to her detriment, Justice Birss accepted the evidence that she had been paid low wages, worked long hours, hardly had time off, and made a commitment to her parents’ farm as opposed to other farms because of the assurances given to her. Consequently, Justice Birss stated that her proprietary estoppel claim had been made out.
However, before allowing a conclusion to take place, Justice Birss had to deal with some other interesting points in order to finalise this dispute: firstly, whether her mother would be bound to a promise that was made by her husband to his daughter, and secondly whether a reasonable casual offer that was made by her parents and later rejected by the daughter 10 years prior would prevent the claimant from pursuing her claim.
Justice Birss firstly stated that in reference to the case of Fielden v Christie-Miller  EWHC 87 (Ch) one can be bound by another’s promise if they were aware of it, and in this case he thought that the mother knew of the assurances made to her daughter and was therefore bound. With respect to the second point Justice Birss was of the opinion that “it was not put to the claimant that by refusing the offer…[that] she would forfeit that inheritance”, and that the refusal did not entitle the defendant to abandon the assurances provided to the claimant. However, Justice Birss did apply this fact into his calculation of what relief should be rewarded.
The daughter was awarded £1.17 million of an estate valued at £2.5 million. Evidently, a promise that changed her life.
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At MW Solicitors, our mission is "To make quality legal services accessible to everyone" including those who wish to challenge a will. Sarah and Ravandeep are members of our Estate and Trust Disputes Team based at MW Guildford.
If you believe you may have inadvertently made such a promise or wish to rely on a promise of a gift on death our specialist Estate and Trust Dispute Solicitors are here to help you. Don't delay, call our Team today on 020 3551 8500 or use our Contact Us form to arrange a callback.